Part of what we covered in my Introduction to Creative Writing class this year was writing creative essays, or creative non-fiction. So, this is basically my final project for the year. It's something I really felt like covering as well as sharing, so I hope you enjoy it. No Day But TodayBy tummerI woke up on the morning of October 28th, 2013, rather earlier than what I was used to. I was having a rough time falling asleep the night before and I knew that I was barely going to be functional for that day of school. Part of me wanted to ask for the day off to celebrate, but that would mean catching up on things I was already behind on. With every little thing I saw, it became sentimental on this day. As I showered, I couldn’t help but stare at the scar down my chest. So much has changed about it within that short year. I remember the first time I was able to look down when I was in the hospital (the first time I can remember anyway) and looked at the bandages over the scar. And then those bandages came off, looking at how red and devastating the area was. The aching I was feeling mirrored how the scar appeared. After my shower, I went to the living room. At five in the morning, it was the only time I would be able to have control over the television in my big family. It didn’t take me long to find what movie I was going to watch: the 2005 adaptation of Johnathan Larson’s Rent. The story revolved around this group of friends living in New York City, some of which were suffering from the AIDS epidemic in the 90s. It has become a form of a ritual to watch this film—or at the very least, listen to the music—on the two most important days of my life: my birthday and the day I received my brand new heart. 525,600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?1At times, it feels like it hasn’t even been so long since I received my new heart. I always think back to the night of the 27th, when we got the phone call. We were celebrating my sister’s quinceanera. A month before then, I had been released from a three month stay in the hospital. I was quietly listening to music in my room when I was told the news that the doctors had found a heart. “Holy ****,” were my exact words. I called my friend Mary with the news before we left, and the next thing I can remember, we were well on our way to the UCLA emergency room. Back in the present moment, my family was slowly waking up and getting ready for their day while my focus was on the television. I know the musical by heart, but I don’t just sing along like it’s just another causal viewing. Today, I give each lyric the emphasis that it deserved. Before I knew it, Rent had reached its finale, and my siblings were all crowded around the television with me. As the credits roll, I gather my things for class as well as collect my medication. I’m to take my morning dosage in only a few minutes, but I pack away my night pills, even though I know that tonight I’ll be home in time to take them. I take Aspirin (81mg) in the mornings to prevent blood clots, Bactrim (1 pill) twice on Mondays and Thursdays to prevent heart rejection, Fish oil (1 pill) in the mornings, Magnesium (399 mg) three times a day as a supplement, Myfortic (720 mg) twice a day to prevent rejection, Norvasc (10 mg) in the morning to control my blood pressure, Pepcid (20 mg) twice a day to prevent ulcers, Pravachol (10 mg) twice a day to reduce my cholesterol level, Prednisone (3 mg) in the morning to prevent rejection, Prograf (1.5 mg) twice a day to prevent rejection, Tums (500 mg) twice a day as a calcium supplement, and Valcyte (450 mg) twice a day to prevent viral rejection. It’s hard to imagine that just a year ago, some of these had higher dosages as well as being on other medications. I carefully pack up my morning pills as well as my night-time medication. While I know that I’ll be home in time to take them, it has become a sort of habit to pack them just in case. I also make sure to pack up enough water bottles for the day, since my doctors instructed me that I cannot have any tap water to drink. Before the transplant, I only had to take a single medication that controlled my blood pressure, but now it’s turned into a giant list. I now keep taking these pills at 8AM and 8PM though, just like I have for the past year. It’s hard not to think back to all those emotions of that night. My entire family had heard the news through Facebook, many of whom were schedule plane flights or starting late night drives to be at the hospital when everything starts to happen. I had posted on a Kingdom Hearts2 forum that I frequent when I was admitted into the hospital, spreading the news that we have finally found a new heart. While there were many typical comments of happiness for me, the ones that clearly stand out were along the lines of “Don’t go dying now.” That dark humor is what kept me sane before the operation as well as the healing process. The darkness is a mask for the truth; ironic since my mask of optimism was what kept everyone else sane. My job in all of this was the easiest. At 7:30 the very next morning, the doctors put me to sleep and then what felt like a two second nap was really an eight hours surgery. The comments posted on the thread I made showed the insanity of what some of my friends went through, but I wonder what my own family was going through. Your mind always thinks about the best in any situation, but in a subject as heavy as this, it’s not out of the question if they ever contemplate what they saw as unthinkable. Those hours of unconsciousness and in surgery were spent in classrooms a year later, thousands of miles away. Between my many classes, I receive messages that very much mirror the night of the news. I’m happy that they acknowledge me, but it all feels a bit cliché, but to show that would be a sign of ingratitude to many. Those people don’t understand what real ingratitude feels like, no matter how much they characterize me of it. I’m not ungrateful because I want something other than praise for having come so far in a year. I know that this heart is a special gift. Above all, I know what it must mean to get my heart. A 27 year-old woman, who was in perfect health and had a hopeful life is now dead. She had left her body and her family behind, leaving her heart to beat within me. That is what causes much of my reflection on this day. Usually hearts come in a Styrofoam boxes, covered in ice, but mine was different. It was a new method of transportation that doctors wanted to test here in the States, already being approved in European countries. My new heart came beating in a box, pumping my donor’s blood, even when it’s no longer in the body. In one sense, she never really died since her heart never stopped beating. I’m simply borrowing her heart for the time being. There are days that I feel unworthy of this gift and the hardships that it brings on a daily basis. There are days where I want to just give up and give into the inevitable. Even with this new heart, I still lived on borrowed time. I’m given this amazing thing, and I get sacred. I feel absolutely selfish when I get depressed about my situation. Sharing this to the transplant community I found on a social media site called Tumblr, someone said that I “am allowed to feel whatever I wanted to” during this time in my life. Those words helped me feel less alone, knowing that there were others who had gone through the same struggling emotions I was. It’s okay for the only reason to keep on living is simply as a gesture for my donor. ~Days before my family had dug through my room and found a poem I had written for a poetry slam. I thought that it was an okay poem, simply writing it on a whim, but my mother had found it breathe-taking. The poem, Her Name Is, was part of a coping process I had begun earlier in the month. The poem itself was one of gratitude to the donor, someone who I have never known, but would love to meet. I named her Homura, based from a character of an anime that I was a big fan of, Puella Magi Madoka Magica. In the show, Homura has given everything to keep a friend off a dark fate, but nearly lost herself in the process3. She was a powerful, loving person, and I admired that about her. It would probably surprise my mother if I told her that the meaning of the name in my poem never occurred to me when I first named my heart. The poem was written on a whim, as I was waiting around one day. I decided to look up what “Homura” translated to since a lot of names in Japan are taken from words and phrases. In a show that was as symbolic as Puella Magi Madoka Magica, I had a feeling that the names of the character had a special meaning. In hiragana, there is no meaning, but if it is written in kanji, the name can mean fire or blaze (炎 or 焔), heart on fire (心火), mass of flame (炎叢), and village protector (保村). With that, I began to write, thinking about the idea of a mass of fire. Many see it as something that is destructive, but I associated it with something else. I thought of the mythology behind the Phoenix, a legendary bird that at the end of its life cycle bursts into flames, and then rises from the ashes as a chick, bringing new life. ...[Before] she can rise though, the scarlet bird must set fire hermajestic wings, inclosing itself in a ballfull of flames and pain......That's why her name is Homurawhich translates to "heart of fire"The name I gave my heart,Homura in order to save me, caused a scarthat will be a constant reminder of her sacrifice... Often, I wonder if my heart donor would like that name and what she thinks of my reasoning behind it. It would probably be better to ask what her family thinks of the name, if it accurately represents what her daughter was like in life. It would be nice to know who the family is, just so I would have someone to thank for all of this. All that I know about my donor heart is that it came from a 27 year-old female who was completely healthy. It is often the case that the donor family doesn’t wish to know about the heart recipient, which is respectful. The only thing that they asked about was that if the recipient of their daughter’s heart made it through the surgery, to which I was eager to give the doctors permission to say. I had through of doing research, looking in news reports or obituaries talking about the death of a 27 year-old woman who died in the Southern California region4. I had written a poem for them as well, as a thank you a month after the surgery, but I know none of my words can comfort for their loss. ~A full year after the surgery, that night, I sat down and ate spaghetti like it was nothing. It was a last minute party thrown together with all my family and friends. I never realize how much people care until they gather into a tiny room, conversations crowding over another. It had nearly mirrored that previous December, coming down to visit even though the doctor’s orders were not to travel or go to anywhere big the first three months after surgery. Christmas was still in the minds of many as they believed that they were celebrating another miracle. Another mirror between the two parties were the congratulations passed around. It is something expected, but I still don’t understand why it is done. Others say they are proud of me for something I have dealt with every day of my life. They know how I’ve suffered, but don’t understand how mundane survival has become a part of my life. I wake up, breath, try to live a good day, and sleep just like everybody else. Sure, I have hitches in my day like medication breaks, occasional blood draws, and countless hospital visits, but I never allowed that to ever defined or changed me. Still, now and then, they congratulate, and I accept, because although I feel that it is cliché, I know that they mean it from the bottom of their hearts. No one can know or mirror my struggle, which I have accepted as well. Sometimes, it is lonely, thinking I have no one to relate to. Then, there are times like today, a year after my surgery, where I know I am cared for. And while there is no hint of Finale B playing in the background, the sound of everyone enjoying a meal together is good enough. Footnotes 1. Seasons of Love, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson. While in the stage production of Rent, the song is sung at the start of the second act, which is at the funeral of one of the characters, it is the opening number for the film. 2. Kingdom Hearts is a video game series which bring together the Final Fantasy franchise (owned by Square-Enix) and Disney. The series focuses on heroes who fight dark forces with weapons known as “Keyblades,” which have the power to unlock hearts, world keyholes, and even the legendary “Kingdom Hearts”. 3. Something about Puella Magi Madoka Magica that is often over looked is that in episode 10, it is revealed that Homura Akemi, at the beginning of the show’s timeline, had been released from the hospital after dealing with (unspecified) heart problems. 4. Due to my heart being transported through the special “heart-in-a-box” set up, it could have come from somewhere much further than what was originally possible with the “traditional” Styrofoam box.